Reupholster A Desk Chair!

I recently decided that my old computer desk chair needed a little face lift. The chair is about two years old so the foam had gone all flat and it was no longer comfortable. Plus it was boring and black and ugly. So I reupholstered it!

DIY Desk Chair Makeover

It’s so cute and fun now; it makes me happy every time I look at it! Plus it’s way more comfortable because I replaced the foam as well as replacing the fabric.

I was actually surprised at just how easy this was to do. I always figured reupholstering something was a “real” project, not just some little crafty thing I could pull together in an hour or so. But it turns out it’s a lot simpler than I had imagined (and it only took me about an hour!) If you have a staple gun and a bit of time, you can do it too! Actually, you don’t even need a staple gun, it just makes it a little easier 🙂

Here’s what you need:

  • an old chair that needs some beautification
  • fabric (something a bit thicker than standard quilting cotton)
  • foam (can be found in any fabric store; I used 1″ foam but you can use any thickness depending on how cushy you want your chair to be)
  • batting
  • a staple gun and staples
  • a screwdriver

Note: If you don’t have a staple gun, that’s okay! You can do this with a hammer instead. Just get some carpet tacks (super short nails; you can find them at any hardware store) and hammer the tacks in to hold down the fabric instead of stapling it.

By the way, if your old chair that needs beautification doesn’t have fabric, you can still spruce it up and give it new life! Check out these custom bar stools from The DIY Village for a tutorial on fixing up plain wooden chairs or stools!

1. Take apart your chair

The seat and backrest of your chair should come off of the main spine part, somehow. If your chair is like mine, there are screws on the bottom of the seat and on the back of the backrest. Just unscrew those guys to remove the seat and backrest.

2. Pull the plastic backing off of the seat and backrest

The backing on my chair has a little lip that curls around to the front to hold down the edge of the fabric and foam, so it was pretty easy to just “snap” the whole plastic piece off. Just make sure to unscrew any screws and remove any staples holding the plastic backing onto the wooden base before pulling the plastic off. (Totally missed a staple on my seat and I split the plastic in half. Thank God for superglue!)

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Pulling apart the chair

3. Separate the current fabric and foam from the wooden backing

Meaning, pull out ALL THOSE STAPLES! I won’t lie, this was the least fun part of the whole thing. I shoved a flathead screwdriver under each staple to sort of pry it up, then grabbed it with the pliers and pulled it the rest of the way out. About 100 times. Blech. My hands were cramping for sure. (JM says I need a positive spin here. I just sort of snorted at him and added this parenthetical. There was nothing positive about this part, except that it got me one step closer to the fun part.)

4. Measure and cut your foam

If you’re reupholstering a normal dining room chair, you want your foam about half an inch bigger than the piece of wood so that the edges of the wood are covered and soft when you’re done wrapping it all back up. But for my specific project I cut the foam to exactly the size of the wood board because the plastic backing wraps around to the front and I didn’t want it to be too thick for it to “snap” back on.

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Measuring foam

Place your wood backing down onto the foam with the back side face up, and trace the edges with a pen. If your wood pieces are slightly curved like mine are in the photo above, make sure you press the foam into the curve while you trace to get the shape right.

Then cut the foam along your lines. Don’t worry about making nice clean lines here; it’s going to get covered up and you won’t notice any weirdness in the finished chair.

I also broke the top corners of my foam just to make doubly sure that the plastic backing piece could snap back on when I was finished. This part is totally optional, but if you want a gentler slope towards the edges of your chair just take your scissors and cut off the top corner of the foam.

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Breaking the foam edge

The side of foam facing the camera is the top, where you’ll be sitting.

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Breaking the foam edge

See how raggedy my cuts are? Doesn’t matter at all!

5. Measure and cut your batting

I suppose the batting part is optional for a cheap computer desk chair, but if you’re reupholstering real chairs you’ll probably want it. I had some batting anyway and figured it couldn’t hurt to make it even more cushy!

You want your batting to be about two inches larger than your piece of wood. Since my foam was cut exactly to the size of my wood I just used that to measure.

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Measuring batting

Again, don’t worry about being precise in your cuts here. I obviously wasn’t. 🙂

6. Measure and cut your fabric

Your fabric should extend over the edges of your piece of wood by about three inches. Again, I just measured with my foam and batting.

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Measuring fabric

Fabric already comes in straight lines and right angles, so I made it easy on myself and didn’t follow the curve of the batting exactly. Cuz it doesn’t matter. Are you picking up on how simple this is yet? None of the cutting really matters!

7. Layer your fabric, batting, foam, and piece of wood and start stapling!

I cut my pieces in this order for a reason. All I had to do at this point was add the piece of wood to the top of the pile and everything is already in the right order for me to start stapling! (Just make sure, if you broke the corners of your foam, that the unbroken edge of your foam is face up.)

I lined up my piece of wood on top of my foam, and then starting on one of the short edges, I pulled the fabric and batting around to the back of the wood and stapled it on. For the first round of staples I only stapled it about every three inches or so. You just want to get it all stapled on. Make sure that you are pulling your fabric tight as you do this.

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: First round of staples

See how the edges of the fabric aren’t pretty or anything and they are only pulled tight against the wood where the staples are? That’s totally fine. You just want to get the fabric stapled on at this point.

Next I did a second round of staples. This time I pulled the fabric even tighter around to the back and stapled it on about every half an inch on the corners and every inch on the flat sides. I’m of the opinion that you can’t have too many staples…just keep pulling your fabric tight and stapling it down until you’re happy with how tight all the edges are!

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Stapled back corner

See how much more finished the edges of the backrest look now?! And for corners, I recommend folding the fabric over as you go around and stapling through a few layers of fabric to get it all to lay nice and flat.

8. Reassemble your chair

Now that you’ve got your seat and backrest reupholstered, all you need to do is reassemble the chair! There was some extra fabric on the back of the wood (you can see it on the corners in the photo above) so I cut that all off so it wouldn’t be too thick back there. Then I snapped the little black plastic pieces around the edges of the entire thing. And they totally fit, no issues! Woot!

Then I screwed the seat and backrest back onto the roll-y chair spine part and I was done! Brand new, beautiful, comfy, happy chair!

DIY Desk Chair Makeover

DIY Desk Chair Makeover

DIY Desk Chair Makeover

Isn’t that fabric super cute?!

The cats really like it too 🙂

DIY Desk Chair Makeover: Finnegan

This is seriously my favorite project that I’ve done. My husband thought I had gone a little crazy after I finished this cuz I kept hugging the chair every once in a while. But really, it just makes me so happy every time I look at it, I love it!

Have you ever reupholstered something before? I’ve seen some great reupholstering projects around the internet, but now that I have finished this, I’m a little less apprehensive about trying something bigger. It was really a lot easier than I had expected!

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I link up at these awesome parties!

Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. TS says

    5 years ago

    Hi Jessi
    Thank you for posting this! I just recently recovered a standard Target desk chair for my office. I used some fun Lily fabric, and wanted to say that I loved your easy step-by step tutorial.
    I recently started a blog (mostly for family and friends) and shared my experience of recovering the chair, in one of my first posts. I added the link to your tutorial for viewers to follow.
    I Love my new chair! Thanks!

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      5 years ago

      Oh my gosh, your chair is beautiful! I love that fabric!

  2. Linda H. says

    6 years ago

    Thank you SO much for sharing this! Like you, I’m intimidated at the thought of “reupholstering,” but your blog post gives me confidence. I bought all the supplies and am going off to do it right now. If all goes well, I will be blogging about my experience, and referring people to your tutorial. I really appreciate this! Thanks!

  3. Kirsten says

    7 years ago

    I know this post is like a year old but it’s so helpful! Question, my chair looks very much like yours but has no plastic backing on the top piece, I don’t want the stapled fabric to be seen on the back of the backrest, any tips?

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      7 years ago

      Is there a backing at all on the top piece? How are the staples covered up right now? If you want, feel free to email me a photo at [email protected] and I can see if I can help!

  4. Wendy Verdon says

    7 years ago

    I love it! I have a pink one when my daughter was in to the pinks from a few years ago. I did not want to just throw it out, so now I know what to do! Thank you for the great tutorial.

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